I’ve been back in my home for about 6 weeks now and it’s finally starting to feel normal. Memory of the rental experience is starting to fade. I haven’t made any more false turns towards the rental house when driving home and I almost always remember where the light switches are in my house. As I wander around the house or do something ordinary like watching TV or reading a magazine in the living room, it feels sometimes weird, like the past 6 months of since the fire never happened.
There are a still few reminders that the house has changed. On the positive side, I have beautiful bathrooms and a brand new kitchen. The new floors look great though the dark wood sure shows the dust and dog hair more. I think what stands out the most is what is not there. I have no mantel for the fireplace yet. The contractor is having one built but hasn’t gotten around to installing it yet. It’s not that we need a mantel for Christmas stockings, since we don’t celebrate, but it would be nice to put up the menorah and all the holiday cards on it. It looks oddly naked without the mantel, like a scar above the fireplace to remind us that not all is totally healed.
The walls are also bare – no pictures, no art, no clocks. I find myself glancing at the places I used to hang the clocks, only to find bare walls. Not that I need clocks. Every electronic item seems to have one; all I have to do is look at the stove or microwave or cable box or computer to get the time. I won’t be putting anything on the walls at this house. I plan to keep them free of holes for the future buyers. It’s also one less thing to undo and pack up when I move again. On the other hand, the walls reveal alarm system panels dangling from holes, covered in the dirty plastic that had protected them from painting. Upstairs the phone jacks are clustered together in several places along the bottom of walls. Who uses phone jacks anymore, asks the contractor. I don’t know, but just in case, each room needs one, just like before the fire. Not everyone has gone wireless. And so it goes. A few repairs here, a few replacements there.
The fire and its destruction have begun to fade in my memory. I’ve always loved a fireplace fire and when the weather finally became cool enough to justify one, I lit my first fire since, well, the last bad fire. I didn’t freak out at the flames, and in fact, I enjoyed the coziness of it. But I kept the fire extinguisher close by, just in case.
Then comes the phone call, late at night, from my son. I answer the call with some trepidation. He’s having a panic attack – crying and gasping for breath as he tries to talk. It’s his first finals week back at college and he’s overwhelmed. He doesn’t know what to do – it’s too much for him – he can’t manage it. I let him talk and try to comfort him. One day at a time, I say. Be easy on yourself, it’s the first time in a year or so to take finals, we don’t expect stellar grades, you’re in transition. As we talk back and forth, he slowly begins to breath normally again. His voice becomes less quivering. It doesn’t help that he’s got a cold and I give him the usual mama-advice. By midnight, he’s calmed down, ready to sleep. He thanks me for listening and I remind him I’m always there for him. We hang up, both of us exhausted. It’s not the first panic attack he’s had since the fire and probably won’t be the last. Much as we’d like to put the fire in the past, its effects linger on.